Archive for August, 2009
1. More Experts, More Expertise:
Where most panels at SxSW will have one or two experts, we think a broad cross-section of experience is more valuable (and more fun), so we’re bringing six CEOs. There’s no shortage of talent in the S2 client pool, so we’ve selected five S2 entrepreneurs to discuss proven strategies for rising above industry noise while our own Jeremy Toeman moderates the discussion.
2. Diversity of Content:
With seasoned experts in all walks of consumer tech, from the web to devices, this panel represents the best conglomerate of technology experts out there. We’ve got boxee and Redux to talk about the best platforms for engaging with digital entertainment real-time. Want to see how a device can add real-time, social functionality to your storage? Pogoplug can answer that question. We’ll also look at real-time content creation with 12seconds and how to manage the surge of social content on Facebook with Face.com.
Through the lenses of real-time web and social media, we’ll discuss how these leaders build and revamp their products, engage with their user communities and solve complex issues to make their technology stand out as more than the simple sum of its parts. Get insights into their core product choices and how the market climate weighed into them. Find out what trends they are seeing and how to partner with community enthusiasts to make leverage these. Ask them about their challenges and strategies…or anything else you want.
Our panel will be moderated by the founder of Stage Two Consulting, Jeremy Toeman. Jeremy was using social media before the term was even coined, pioneering one of the first web communities around the Slingbox. He’s been in the trenches for the past 10 years and has his fingers on the pulse of the tech market. Having recently launched @trivia, a Twitter-based trivia game that connects brands with the prolific Twitter community, Jeremy’s a proven expert on using social media and real time web to market within the digital sphere.
Speaking on the panel, we’ll have representatives from boxee.tv, Pogoplug, Redux, 12seconds.tv and Face.com. Here’s a little about each of these speakers:
- Daniel Putterman is the CEO of Pogoplug, the award-winning device that lets users access and share files from their home external hard drive. The Pogoplug has been praised as the simplest way to free your inner drive, bringing cloud-like functionality to storage people already own.
-David Macintosh is the CEO and co-founder of Redux, your entertainment guide to the web. Redux is a new social media service that helps people find online entertainment recommended by people who are into the same stuff that they are – all in real-time.
- Sol Lipman is the co-founder of 12seconds.tv and avid chicken enthusiast. He’s built the best way to share short videos from the web or mobile devices.
- Gil Hirsch is the CEO of Face.com, the best in class facial recognition software that is not only highly accurate, but also works efficiently at web-scale. Since launching their Facebook app in March, Face.com has successfully recognized and auto-tagged over 1.5 billion photos
To vote for us in the SxSW Panel Picker, click this link and give us a thumbs up. To catch these companies and more Stage Two entrepreneurs at other events, follow S2 on Twitter for real-time updates as the year progresses. Otherwise, we’ll see you in Austin.
In regards to PR firms behaving badly, I have a guest post up on Brian Solis’ PR 2.0 blog called “Why Authenticity Matters“. While the idealist in me thinks “duh, everyone should understand it” the mere fact that it needed to get written seemingly justifies this follow-up post with some easy-to-follow, practical advice. On what not to do. Unfortunately, my hunch is most of the people who really need this advice most certainly are not going to find our little blog, but one can always hope.
- Undisclosed Shills.
You should never have “influencers” promoting your product without clear disclosure. Whether paid or unpaid, every time you want to engage someone in preaching your love, that relationship should be made clear. When shills are discovered, there is immediate and one would argue permanent taint left on a brand.
What list would be complete without spam? Got a newsletter that people can opt-in to? Great! Buying a list of names and email addresses and sending them unwarranted babble? Bad!
- Fake People.
In lieu of paying others to do your work, some firms create fake personas to write glowing reviews on their behalf. Sites like Yelp, MySpace, Amazon, and more are typically the target of phony non-existent reviewers. It’s a little trickier to find the fakes, but if you are on the hunt, you’ll find the trails soon enough.
- Anonymous Commenting.
Commenting on blogs and discussion forums is a tricky territory to begin with. Anonymous commenting is just terrible. Also, since you leave an IP address and other “fingerprints” when you do it, odds are sooner or later someone figures you out.
- Misrepresenting Products.
This is a bit more of a “high-brow” approach to deception. Since most readers of most content do not do their own fact-checking, it’s fairly easy to plant false information about a competitor’s products. This can go under the radar for a little while, but sooner or later you’ll drop the wrong message on the wrong place, and it’ll make it’s way to the hands of those who can correct it. And they will, and then it’s retribution time.
In the current state of things, it’s extremely challenging to mandate or track who is being paid to write, and about what products. Until it’s straightened out and disclosure goes hand-in-hand with paid blogging, commenting, or tweeting, I’d stay the heck away.
- Pumped Up Reviews.
When I see a product with a small number of reviews (on a site like Amazon), all are 5 star, and all are posted around the same few days, I call shenanigans. When I see lots of 5 star reviews with thin/shallow content, I know something’s up. And I’m not the only one. Don’t do it, don’t have friends do it, don’t have contractors do it. The entire purpose of user reviews is to provide value, not to trick people into buying things. Breaking that trust does much more than do your would-be-returners a disservice, it lessens the overall value of peer reviews on sites like Amazon.
The Internet has a long memory. It’s pretty close to permanent. Putting something up somewhere, then trying to hide it later can work, but can also lead to disaster. Taking screenshots and uploading them elsewhere is far too easy. You’re better off being more prudent rather than making mistakes and trying to cover them up. And we all know how much fun dealing with busted coverups can be.
- One-Directional Messaging.
Got a blog, don’t allow comments? Send tweets but never reply? These are the simplest examples of perverting natural two-directional messaging platforms into one way roads to nowhere. You can resist as long as you want, but your customers are looking for direct engagement, and brands that satisfy these needs are seeing results. Note: this doesn’t mean your CEO needs to personally respond to every incoming email on their own!
- Publishing Rumors.
This spans beyond just mistakes companies make, but individuals, bloggers, and others as well. The more anyone gets known for creating/perpetuating rumors, the less credible they become over time. Further, if you never admit mistakes or clear up the messes you make, that too will stick around for the long run.
As the old saying goes, it takes years to build trust, but only seconds to destroy it. In the modern era of hyper-connected, self-publishing, on-the-record, capture-the-moment lifestyle, it’s become virtually impossible to “get away with it” and bankable odds say you’ll get caught.
What does this all really mean? It means it’s time to invest in building better products. Excellent products don’t need shills to post fake reviews, as your customers will do it for you. Great services will get referred by the users, not by your paid placements. You’ll never need to stoop to spam or using your PR team to write press releases about the new junior level person you just hired just to “keep the momentum going”, as users will pass the messages along for you. There’s no better investment you can make than into the product itself, it’ll outweigh false love anytime.
Coming out of CES this year, Boxee gained a lot of momentum. During the first half of the year we targeted mainstream business press to raise Boxee’s profile for content partners. Articles in the New York Times, The Washington Post, All Things D, and more drove interest from hardware makers, content partners, and even more press. That coverage subsequently also generated attention from the investment community even though Boxee had just raised their Series A in November of last year…
From that interest, we’re happy to announce Boxee has raised their next round of funding. Here’s the news from their blog:
We are happy to announce that Boxee closed a $6M round of financing led by Boston-based General Catalyst with participation by prior investors Spark Capital and Union Square Ventures. Neil Sequeira from General Catalyst will join our board.
We closed our Series A late last year, but given the momentum and opportunities we’ve seen over the past few months, we thought it made sense to bring in a new partner and additional funds.
General Catalyst brings more than just money to the table. We wanted a partner to help us as we strengthen our relationships with big media and cable companies. As we learned (the hard way), it is a complicated world.. Neil and General Catalyst as a firm have years of experience, deep understanding, and extensive network in these industries, and we are looking forward to working together with them.
Going forward we plan to focus on:
* Improving the product – We are working on the Beta release (due later this fall), but also looking beyond Beta and into the roadmap of 2010. The idea is to have a healthy mix of development driven by user feedback (which is the essence of the upcoming Beta) and innovation that comes from within Boxee.
* Adding more content – We believe Boxee can be a great partner for independent content producers as well as big media companies. We will try to bring more TV Shows, Web Shows and Movies from ad-based, subscription-based and a la carte type services.
* Attracting more developers – While we have an App Store on Boxee, we know it needs some love. For Developers, we know it needs to be easier to develop and monetize apps. For users, we’re going to make it easier to find apps on Boxee. Last but not least we’re going to extend the APIs so everyone can do more with Boxee.
* Bringing Boxee into devices – Boxee today is mostly serving a tech-savvy audience – those who feel comfortable connecting a computer to a TV. To make Boxee more accessible for a mainstream consumer it’s important for us to get Boxee embedded into connected TVs and Blu-Ray players, game consoles and set-top boxes. We’re already talking to device makers to ensure Boxee works on a variety of platforms for 2010.
We are really excited about the future and glad to have General Catalyst and Neil as part of the team.
A new startup we’re working with opened its doors in a closed beta today. Team Apart is launching a new service to aid remote workgroups with a pretty powerful set of features including:
- Group Video-chat
- Collaboration tools like whiteboards and shared notepads
- Persistent workspace (so shared data can remain available indefinitely)
- Real-time document and photo sharing
- Browser-based (no download, no plugins)
Team Apart chose to launch in a closed beta to bring in a few hundred beta testers who could help them identify bugs, innovate new features, and make sure the service is robust enough for prime-time business users. Their intended audience is small businesses, distributed work groups, and client-based companies (like ad agencies and PR companies). Anyone who needs to work and meet with people who are in a different location can benefit from this product.
Team Apart is announcing their new service via their company blog, and the full text of that announcement can be found here. Some folks in the technology press have covered the news and are giving out invites to join the beta. We will update the list as coverage comes in.
Out of respect for our surroundings, we’re slowly reaching commendable levels of sustainability. Some people are beginning to compulsively track their plastic consumption, and even I’ve caught myself re-using Ziploc bags for days in a row. At Stage Two, we’ve been gauging how the essence of environmental sustainability ties into the marketing world.
In our economically-driven society, it’s beyond easy to prioritize our actions by what makes us the most money. A marketing firm could easily sign on as many clients as possible in the short term, and conduct relatively objective business with each of them, but then where’s the authenticity? If sustainability is defined by using only what is necessary, then in marketing, it’s reflected in the quality of the team. A firm simply doesn’t need a whole Ford assembly line of representatives with little skill (aside from that of speed-working) just for the sake of having as many cogs as possible to sign on as many clients as possible. Instead, sustainable marketing calls for a small, handpicked team of consultants who bring to the table a unique skill set coupled with passion. In a sense, bigger isn’t better and more isn’t merrier.
Most importantly, though, good consultants will savor the experience of working with a company they genuinely want to see succeed. On this note, there exists such a thing as the “right kind” of client. Firms shouldn’t be afraid to turn down working with a company if they don’t mesh well together (or if the product is inoperable… you can’t pitch a product if you don’t believe it!). The whole purpose of this profession is to work to benefit the client, not simply to book as much revenue as possible (which is why Stage Two isn’t a suit-and-tie, watch-your-language, conference-room-in-ten-minutes kind of place). I mean, let’s face it, we as marketing pros have a job to do, and that job isn’t to parade around flaunting our professional relationships with him and her; our job is to respect our relationships. This fine line is especially apparent in media relations, just one aspect of what a firm like Stage Two handles.
Let’s examine the intricacies of public and media relations a bit. The fatal mistake that most people in PR make is that they don’t spend the time to get to know who they’re pitching to. Once you understand that a writer’s job is to deliver a specific story to his or her readers – whether it’s strictly gadget news for Engadget or consumer-web for Mashable – then journalists will be far more willing to respond to a relevant pitch. It’s thoroughly unsustainable to waste the potential of a strong relationship on an irrelevant plea to the wrong pub. Cringe-inducing mass pitches might be easy to write and send to a purchased press list, but they’ll only burn your bridges. You’ll never get a second shot with the pubs you’ve inadvertently harassed. Instead, think of press and product as symbiotic: without one, the other is doomed. As a result, knowing and respecting the press enables you to create a sustainable loop with them. They’ll grow to trust that whenever you approach them, it’ll be for something worth their time.
If you haven’t noticed by now, this whole sustainability kick has trended so long because it goes far beyond recycling coffee cups. It’s the basic philosophy of cutting down on waste. So ask yourself, are you wasting the chance to build a sustainable relationship by burning your bridges with tactless pitches? Or are you going the extra mile to cultivate valuable relationships?